x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gulf Finance House might not have legs to play for Leeds

Red flags have been raised over a bank based in Bahrain that is hoping to propel Leeds United FC to the top league with a Dh300 million takeover.

Gulf Finance House is leading an acquisition of the English football club Leeds United FC. Stu Forster / Getty Images
Gulf Finance House is leading an acquisition of the English football club Leeds United FC. Stu Forster / Getty Images

Red flags have been raised over a bank based in Bahrain that is hoping to propel Leeds United FC to the top league with a Dh300 million (US$81.6m) takeover.

Gulf Finance House (GFH), which is leading an acquisition of the English football club in the second-tier Championship league, is at "serious risk of default" on its debts, according to the investment firm Exotix.

Exotix, which specialises in distressed assets, said in a research note GFH's core operations were not producing significant cash and its ability to pay future debts was in doubt.

"We remain wary of GFH's ability to carry on as a going concern ... the company now runs a serious risk of default," it said.

GFH, which was hit hard by the financial crisis, has total debt amounting to $252m, according to Exotix.

In May, the bank obtained permission from creditors to restructure a $110m debt but Exotix said GFK's sukuk should be evaluated "from a liquidation perspective".

Warnings over the solvency of GFH came as the firm confirmed it was leading acquisition talks over Leeds, a one-time giant of English and European football.

Its subsidiary GFH Capital said on Thursday it had signed an "exclusive agreement to lead and arrange the acquisition of Leeds City Holdings including Leeds United FC from the current owners".

GFH did not provide commercial terms of the transaction. However, the value of the deal is believed to exceed £50m (Dh296.7m), according to media reports.

It is not yet clear whether GFH intends to control the club itself or is acting on behalf of a third party. The bank did not respond to a request for comment.

Leeds United, which itself has been beset by financial troubles, dropped out from the Premier League in 2004. It was relegated to the third-tier League One before returning to the Championship in 2010.

GFH Capital said it would aim "to move the club back to the Premier League as quickly as possible" were a takeover to go ahead.

Salem Patel, GFH Capital's chief investment officer, said he hoped the club would take back ownership of Elland Road - the Leeds United stadium - if the acquisition was successful.

"We are keen on waking this sleeping giant, building on and forging a sustainable long-term future for the club - both on and off the pitch," he said.

GFH said it hoped to benefit from increased broadcasting rights payments were Leeds to be promoted to the top league.

"It is expected that from next season each team in the Premier League will receive a minimum of £60m per season due to the increase in broadcasting rights. [Leeds United] FC would also benefit from this if it can achieve promotion to the Premier League," GFH said.

A takeover of Leeds would mark the latest English club to receive backing from Arabian Gulf investors.

In 2008, Manchester City was taken over by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, culminating in the team winning the English Premier League last season.

Qatari investors have bought into France's Paris St-Germain and Spain's Malaga, while a Kuwaiti family acquired England's Nottingham Forest in July.

bflanagan@thenational.ae